FAO Press Release, 9 December 2005
Urgent measures are needed across Latin America and the Caribbean to improve the availability of safe food, both to reduce the level of disease and to facilitate the export of the region’s numerous food products to the rest of the world, 200 regional food-safety experts and regulators agreed today.
At least 6000 outbreaks of a number of different foodborne diseases occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean between 1993 and 2002, according to figures announced here by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Such outbreaks, as well as the greater burden of the many single cases of foodborne disease, resulted in an estimated 57,000 deaths in the region from food- and waterborne diarrhoea in 2004. However, even this estimated disease burden is considered to be greatly underestimating the true magnitude of the foodborne disease problem in the Region, the meeting heard. Organized by FAO and WHO, and hosted by the Government of Costa Rica, the meeting ran from 6 to 9 December 2005.
The experts, representing government food regulatory authorities, food producers, consumer associations and international organizations, agreed on a comprehensive plan which include measures to improve the safety and quality of food both for the peoples of the region and for export.
Regulation to focus on critical points in the food chain
Measures to be taken include assuring safety throughout the entire food chain, by enforcing science-based regulations and applying risk analysis focussing on those critical points in the food chain which require closer monitoring by the relevant government authorities; and improving coordination both among countries in the Region, and between food regulators and food producers in each country.
Despite some relative success in some countries, multiple agencies with fragmented responsibilities, combined with a lack of human and financial resources, are making efforts to achieve uniform high food standards across the region difficult.
For example, not all countries in the Region have harmonized their food legislation with Codex Alimentarius standards. This makes exporting food to the rest of the world, more difficult. Codex Alimentarius is the FAO/WHO body setting food safety and quality standards for consumer protection and facilitation of domestic and international trade.
Food legislation is currently enforced by a number of ministries, including, depending on the country, those for agriculture, health, economy, tourism, trade, and industry, among others. With more than one implementing agency, there is often the risk that the relevant regulations overlap. In addition, these regulations are often out-dated and are not science-based.
Moreover, food safety and quality reference laboratories do not exist in all countries of the Region. The 200 experts underlined the necessity of ensuring that all countries in the Region have own food-testing facilities, or have access to suitable ones in the region.
Promote exports and food security
Food exports from the region are worth some US$66 billion, or 12% of the world’s total food trade, and this figure could increase rapidly over the coming decades if food safety and quality standards are improved, according to FAO and WHO. Several food safety problems including microbiological contamination, are causing costly rejections of export products from the region.
“Without adequate food safety regulatory frameworks and enforcing capabilities, the people of Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to suffer millions of cases of food-borne illness and their food exports will continue to suffer from costly rejections,” said Dr Jorgen Schlundt, WHO’s Director for Food Safety.
“We therefore welcome and will do everything we can to support the development of strong food safety authorities in all the countries of the region, including strengthened food-borne disease surveillance, in order to know where to put increased efforts to lower the disease burden,” he added.
Dr Kraisid Tontisirin, FAO’s Director of Food and Nutrition, said: “Food safety is the bedrock for everything else in the area of nutrition and food security, and for trading food internationally. For example, FAO is actively working with Member countries in the region to assure the safety of fresh fruits and vegetable and the safety and quality of coffee. In so doing, we are enhancing the food security of the region and its ability to export its food. Ensuring safe and nutritious food is an important precondition to food security, and helps countries in the region in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”